By John McDonough | Published February 2017
Kenny Burrell is the last of the generation directly influenced by guitarist Charlie Christian, whose brief career flashed like a supernova between 1939 and ’41 but left the electric guitar behind as his personal monument. It’s good to have Burrell around, still racing coolly over the frets or caressing lyrically here on “‘A’ Train” and “Passion Flower.”
But this is not really a Burrell package. His larger mission is to offer his famous brand and UCLA faculty prestige in support of the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited, the band he helped found in 2013 and has sought to build into a repertory unit on the order of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra West. I know such ventures come with a musty academic epistemology to some. A true jazz orchestra, they would say, should have a soul of its own and not go about renting out its identity to past heroes and future prospects. But, like it or not, as mortality has claimed the great originals of jazz history, the move to institutionalize that history has made the classroom and repertory orchestra among the music’s busiest venues.
That said, there’s nothing classroomish about this excellent band, which can infuse a jazz standard such as Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” with both respectful observance and creative latitude. Using the 1961 Impulse! recording as its model, the reeds project Nelson’s original tenor solo to section strength, while Bobby Rodriguez and Justo Almario fill the shoes of Freddie Hubbard and Eric Dolphy in their own way.
Even a warhorse like “Take The ‘A’ Train” finds fresh trails, galloping through the 1941 Ellington chart and original Ray Nance trumpet solo before turning the brass loose in a series of eights and a collective four-horn jam. The other firecracker is “Fourth Dimensions,” a Don Sickler reinvention of Burrell’s 1950 debut recording, “Kenny’s Sound” (also the first session of Tommy Flanagan). The original is sufficiently obscure now that Sickler’s hard-swinging chart qualifies as a new original.
One doesn’t normally come to Burrell to hear him sing. He sounds a bit too heavy, for example, to provide the requisite hipness on Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Jeannine.” But this is a densely packed CD that can indulge a few moments of non-essentials.
Unlimited 1: tolen Moments; Jeannine; Be Yourself; Remembering; Mama Ya Ya; Fourth Dimensions; Adelante1; Soulero; Passion Flower; Take The ‘A’ Train; Things Ain’t What They Used To Be. (75:50)
Personnel: Kenny Burrell, guitar, vocals (2, 4); Bobby Rodriguez, Mike Price, Dave Richards, Don Papenbrook, Tom Marino, trumpets; Nick De Pinna, Ryan Porter, trombones; Justo Almario, Scott Mayo, Hitomi Oba, Andrea Delano, Charles Owens, saxophones; Billy Mitchell, piano; Trevor Ware, bass; Clayton Cameron, drums; Barbara Morrison, vocals (10).